Play started off slowly Saturday night at Kino North Stadium, but FC Tucson heated up in a hurry. The Men in Black scored three first-half goals on the way to a 3-1 victory over rivals Albuquerque Sol FC.

With the victory, FC Tucson moved eight points clear atop the Mountain Division table and placed itself in favorabe position to advance to the PDL playoffs and secure the Golden Rattler, the rivalry trophy given to the winner of the season series between FC Tucson and Albuquerque Sol FC.

“We’re at the top of the table; it’s a big three points for us,” FC Tucson coach Jon Pearlman said. “We’re happy to put ourselves in great position for the Golden Rattler, but most importantly you see us getting better.”

After missing the team’s last game because of personal reasons, FC Tucson midfielder Moshe Perez returned to the pitch with a bang. The Israeli midfielder was arguably the most aggressive player on the pitch all night, sending several shots at and around the goal.

FC Tucson (6-2-1) had the first real shot at goal during the 13th minute when a passing error from the Albuquerque backline led to a two-on-one breakaway for the Men in Black from Perez and forward Afonso Pinheiro.

However, a lack of communication between Perez and Pinheiro spoiled a prime chance to grab the early lead.

Fast-forward to the 26th minute when Pinheiro took a clever turn toward goal around the Albuquerque Sol FC (2-5-1) backline near the edge of the penalty box.

Pinheiro took a few dribbles before chipping a cross toward the head of forward Danny Musovski, who headed home the opening goal into the bottom left corner of the net past the outstretched arms of Albuquerque Sol goalkeeper Jason Beaulieu for the 1-0 lead.

Play settled down for the next 20 minutes or so until the home squad scored two crucial goals over a five-minute stretch.

Pinheiro and Musovski paired up again in the 44th minute for a goal before Pinheiro fed Perez a cross in front of goal. Perez sent in a screamer in stoppage time to send FC Tucson into halftime with a 3-0 lead.

Pinheiro finished the game with three assists, all of which came in the first half. After the game, the midfielder said he’s happy to show up on the score sheet however he can.

“It’s awesome to get your name on the board, even if it’s a goal or an assist,” Pinheiro said. “That means you’re helping the team.”

Physicality dominated the first half, with referees calling 19 combined fouls over the opening 45 minutes. Perez picked up the lone yellow card of the half in the 43rd minute due to dissent, and referees proceeded to call six more yellow cards over the course of the second half.

“Tempers are going to heat up; they’ve had a lot of losses at our hands,” Pearlman said. “You can imagine their frustration. And we want to do it twice more.”

The second half saw FC Tucson put together several prime scoring chances, but each attempt ended with nothing, as the Men in Black failed to add another goal.

On the flip side, Albuquerque struggled to put together real scoring chances against a strong performance from the FC Tucson defense until the final minutes of stoppage time.

Albuquerque midfielder Tommy Ramos headed in a nice cross into the bottom left corner of the net for the away side’s lone goal.

After the game, Pearlman said he is still searching for a complete-game performance from his squad and hopes it comes sooner rather than later.

“That 90-minute performance is our white rhino,” Pearlman said. “You know it exists, you know it’s out there … and we’ve got to have one of those out there.”